If you have spent any time at the Virginia General Assembly you have probably run into Virginia Organizing’s Legislative Director, Ben Greenberg. Ben can be found in the halls of the Capitol and General Assembly building every day, testifying and lobbying for social and economic justice issues.
Ben is a veteran of the General Assembly and has been lobbying for good causes for over thirty years. The following is Ben’s General Assembly update through January 22, 2012.
The General Assembly of Virginia convened on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. The first twelve days of the session have been marked by:
· Governor McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth address that highlighted the announcements that he had issued in the previous month for the 2012-14 biennium budget and his public policy initiatives.
· Organizing decisions that have provided control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate to the Republicans.
· The introduction of 2337 bills and resolutions for the session (1284 House bills, 253 House resolutions, 666 Senate Bills, and 134 Senate Resolutions).
· The consideration of legislation by legislative committees and subcommittees.
· The submission of 486 budget amendments by Senators and 478 by Delegates, addressing most major cuts proposed by Governor McDonnell as well as new initiatives.
Virtually all legislation that will be introduced by legislators has been introduced, as the final bill introduction date was Friday, January 20. After this date a legislator can only introduce a bill with the unanimous agreement in the House of origin. During the remainder of the session, the Governor can also send new legislation down to the House or Senate.
The number of bills and resolutions introduced, as indicated above, seems high, but the number is actually down significantly from other 60-day even-year sessions:
2010 – 2964 bills and resolutions
2008 – 3323 bills and resolutions
2006 – 3287 bills and resolutions
2004 – 3006 bills and resolutions
2002 – 2907 bills and resolutions
2000 – 3173 bills and resolutions
While there has been a great number of subcommittee and committee meetings held in the first week and a half, there has been relatively little legislation acted on during that time. The committee and subcommittee dockets have been short. In fact, there are many bills that have been introduced just before the final introduction date that haven’t yet been assigned to standing committees in the House of Delegates.
While the 2012 session is being marked by the introduction of numerous ideologically-oriented bills, that is nothing new for the Virginia General Assembly. In fact, the number “extreme” bills from an ultra-conservative perspective haven’t seemed overly excessive during the 2012 session and there are relative few new “extreme” approaches to dealing with hot-button issues.
Although there is plenty of extreme legislation that worries the progressive community, the news is not all bad so far.
First, Senator Carrico introduced SB 329 to remove at-risk four and five year olds from pre-K programs when their parents do not satisfactorily complete classes and courses provided for them. When the bill was heard in subcommittee, Senators Howell and Locke led the debate against the bill. When it came time to vote on the bill in the subcommitee, the motion to PBI (pass-by-indefinitely) or kill the bill was supported 3-2, with Senator Blevins (R) voting to PBI.
When the same bill came before the full committee, the vote by the subcommittee was more than supported as SB 329 was passed by indefinitely on a 12-3 vote, with only two Republicans (two first time elected Senators: Black and Garrett) on the Senate Education and Health Committee joining Senator Carrico in supporting the bill.
Second, one of the anti-immigrant bills concerning progressives during 2012 is legislation mimicking that approved in Alabama that requires public schools to determine whether students were born outside the U.S. or if the student was a child of an alien not in this country legally. This legislation was introduced as HB 138 by Delegate Cole and it was referred to the House Education Committee. Last week HB 138 was heard in Standards of Quality subcommittee composed of eight members, five Republicans and three Democrats. When the bill was heard in the subcommittee, I am pleased to report that the motion to lay the bill on the table (another way of killing a bill) was supported with only one dissenting vote. Considering the potential impact of this bill, this result is very exciting to report.
I would like to share some of the legislation that has been introduced on a couple of our priority issues as well as a couple of other issues in which many are interested:
Health Benefits Exchange bills introduced:
HB 357 – Delegate McClellan – quasi-governmental ( House C & L Committee) *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
HB 402 – Delegate Hope – quasi-governmental (House C & L Committee) *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
HB 464 – Delegate Byron – exchange in the SCC (House C & L Committee)
SB 383 – Senator McEachin – quasi-governmental (Rereferred to Senate C&L Committee) *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
SB 488 – Senator Saslaw – exchange in the SCC (Senate C & L Committee)
SB 496 – Senator Watkins – exchange in the SCC (Senate C & L Committee)
SB 615 – Senator Favola – quasi-governmental (Senate C & L Committee)
The Senate bills are scheduled to be heard in a special subcommittee Chaired by Senator McWaters, with two other members, Senators Stuart and Herring. That subcommittee will be meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 25th. The House bills have not yet been scheduled.
Predatory Lending Bills:
SB 28 – Caps APR of payday loans at 36% – Senator Locke *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
SB 98 – Caps APR of open-end loans at 36% – Senator Edwards *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
SB 186 – Caps APR of payday loans at 36% – Senator John Miller *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
SJ 44 – Constitutional amendment capping all personal loan APRs at 36%- Senator John Miller *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
HB 725 – Caps APR of car title loans, payday loans and open-end loans at 36% – Delegate Yancey *Supported by Virginia Organizing.
Only one of the bills have been heard or scheduled to be heard. Senate Joint Resolution 44 introduced by Senator John Miller has been tabled for the year along with all constitutional amendments. The reason for this is that constitutional amendments must be passed in separate years by the legislature with an intervening General Assembly election and the legislature prefers to consider all newly introduced constitutional amendments in the session held during the year of the election.
Several bills have been introduced to expand drug courts in Virginia based upon the positives successes achieved by those currently operating in the state. One bill remains alive in the Senate introduced by Senator Carrico, SB 317 that would establish drug courts in five more counties in southwest Virginia. Virginia Organizing strongly supports the creation of drug courts. This bill may be heard on Monday when the Senate Courts of Justice Committee meets. Several other drug court bills have already been killed by the Criminal Law subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee despite testimony in favor of the bills by the Virginia Organizing Legislative Director. It appears that this subcommittee will not approve any such bills this session.
Increasing the Threshold for Grand Larceny:
The threshold for grand larceny in Virginia, a felony, has been $200 for thirty-two years. If inflation were considered, the threshold today would be $531. Delegate Surovell introduced HB 675 to increase the threshold to $500 and that bill was heard last week in the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee. Despite excellent testimony by the Chief Patron and the Virginia Organizing Legislative Director, the subcommittee voted to kill the bill with only one dissenting vote after retail merchants and business representatives opposed the bill. Senator Reeves introduced two bills to address this issue. SB 72 would have raised the threshold to $750. Senator Reeves asked that bill be tabled. His SB 71 originally increased the threshold to $500. After opposition was expressed, the Senator introduced a substitute bill that removed the threshold increase and established new conditions and authority that could be used in court to help address those committing the crimes involved. That bill was then overwhelmingly reported by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Restoration of Voting Rights:
Delegate Habeeb introduced HB 16 to provide for automatic restoration of voting rights for persons convicted of non-violent felonies. This bill was referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety, even though such bills in past years have been referred to the Privileges and Elections Committee. A subcommittee of that Committee met at 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning and heard the bill. After presentations and debate, Delegate Filler-Corn made a motion to report the bill. The motion was seconded by an unexpected source on the Subcommittee. After Chairman Cline made a lengthy speech as to why the bill should fail to pass, the Subcommittee voted 2-3 to report the bill, thus defeating it for this session.
No legislation has been introduced during the 2012 General Assembly session to lift the ban on uranium mining in Virginia. This was unexpected in light of all the debate on this issue in the months leading up to the session. It suggests that the proponents for uranium mining do not have the votes to lift the ban or a bill would have been introduced. Instead, the Governor issued a statement on Thursday afternoon asking the General Assembly to keep the ban on uranium mining in place this year while he appoints a special study committee represented by state agency personnel to study the issue. He also suggested that the appropriate state agencies involved would begin work on the potential regulations that would be needed to provide for public safety if the ban were to be lifted. Environmental advocates expressed concern that the Governor made no mention of public input or involvement in the study process and with the Governor’s intent to begin the regulatory process.